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Snippet #2, The Perfection of Horsehair

I am finally writing a book about Tibetan appliqué and my unexpected quest to master this sacred art. Part art book, part memoir. A first-draft snippet from the art-technique part follows. I’d love your help in making it as fascinating and beneficial as it can be. Please read with gentle curiosity, then email me your comments and questions. 

Thanks in advance!

Leslie

 

Wrapping silk thread on horsehair

Wrapping silk thread on horsehair

 

The Perfection of Horsehair

To make a thangka painting, a painter fills in blocks of color on the continuous surface of a single canvas. He then applies wet and dry shading to the colored areas and draws the contour lines in ink with a very fine brush and a steady hand.

In stitched appliqué, colored areas are created with separate pieces of variously colored fabrics. There is usually no shading. And rather than drawing outlines and contours with ink, the appliqué artist constructs lines by wrapping silk thread around a core of horsehair or nylon, then stitches them to the fabric.

With my first teacher, I’d experienced the perfection of horsehair for this purpose. And I returned to horsehair when I began my own work. In Dorjee Wangdu’s studio, where I completed my apprenticeship, we used nylon fishing line. Each material has its advantages but, for me, horsehair is clearly superior. Here’s why…

Have you ever looked at a hair under a high-powered microscope? Any kind of hair — your own will do. If you have a microscope handy, go look now. Just pluck one hair off your head and put it under the lens. (Be careful if, like me, you suffer from trichotillomania. Don’t pluck if doing so will set off a pulling spree!) In truth, I don’t imagine any of you are taking the time to find a microscope now. So take my word for it. Or go look it up.  Here’s what you’ll find. Your hair is not smooth. It has scales along its surface. And so does the hair from a horse’s tail. Different kinds of hair have different surface characteristics, but they all have scaly cracks and crevices. (See the diagram below from MicrolabNW.)

 

The scaly surface of hair. Image from MicrolabNW http://www.microlabgallery.com/hair.aspx

The scaly surface of hair. Image from MicrolabNW

 

Now, if you have any loosely spun silk thread handy, you can put that under the microscope too. Or just look at it closely with good reading glasses. Pull it apart with your fingers. Or trust me again. It is composed of ultra thin fibers.

When I wrap that fibrous silk thread around a scaly horse hair, the fibers get caught in the scales. They cling, causing the thread to remain securely wrapped around the hair without any added adhesives.

Now, I admit it takes practice to wrap thread around hair! It doesn’t happen easily or immediately. But as you gain skill in wrapping the thread tightly and evenly, guiding it with your fingernail so that each turn of silk lies right next to the one before it, the thread clings to the hair.

Put nylon thread or fishing line to the same microscope test and you’ll see that it’s slick. No scales, cracks, or crevices there. Nylon is a type of plastic, as are the other materials used to make monofilament fishing line. So an adhesive is needed to make silk thread grip the nylon. (In Dorjee Wangdu’s workshop, I think we used a gelatinous paste similar to the old Le Pages mucilage… Either that or I’ve mixed the two sticky substances in my memory. Memory does things like that!)

Horsehair also beats nylon on the critical characteristic of pliability. It has just the right amount of rigidity not to flop and wiggle along a line, and just the right amount of flexibility to curve and bend as directed. Nylon has a similar degree of rigidity and seems at first to be similarly flexible. But when nylon thread is called upon to follow intricate shapes, it reveals its subtle shortcomings. It has a kind of muscle memory that makes it resist the artist’s guidance. It dislikes alternating curves, preferring to continue curving in the direction in which it was rolled at the factory. And it tends to bounce back when folded into a sharp angle, distorting a sharp point into a gently bulging cupola. (Perhaps there is a modern synthetic polymer that overcomes these drawbacks of pliability. I don’t know. But as long as we have horsehair to work with, without hurting horses, we don’t need to know.)

Nylon does have the advantage of length. Occasionally, an artist will want to make a continuous line longer than the longest horse tail. In that case, and only in that case, nylon wins the contest.  In my thangkas, I sometimes use nylon to outline the moon seats on which my deities sit and the circles of light they emanate.

One last consideration in choosing the core of one’s colored cords is diameter. Nylon fishing line is produced in a variety of gauges (thicknesses), which allow an artist to create lines of varying weight. But hairs also grow at varying thicknesses, naturally. An appliqué artist using horsehair at the core of her cords can choose coarser hairs for heavier lines and finer hairs for finer lines. She can also vary the number of strands of hair used — three for most lines, just one for the finest lines around eyes and on small fingertips.

 

Horsehair, silk thread, and the cords made by wrapping one around the other.

Horsehair, silk thread, and the cords made by wrapping one around the other.

 

*****

I’m writing a book and I’d like your help in making it as fascinating and useful as possible. You’ve just read a draft snippet. Your loving feedback will help me refine it. Please email me your comments and questions. Remember it’s a first draft. Let me know what touched you and what lost you.

With gratitude overflowing,

Leslie

 
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Threads of Awakening: the book begins (Snippet #1)

For every hundred painted thangkas, there’s maybe one appliqué thangka.

— Valrae Reynolds, author and curator

For us, painting and sculpture are the finest forms of art, but for Tibetans, appliqué and 

embroidery are an even higher art.

— Glenn Mullin, Tibetologist, writer, translator

What led an American woman to learn a sacred Tibetan art so rare that many Tibetans have never even seen it?

And what can this art teach us about our own journey to awakening?

Leslie's hands stitching brocade. Photo by Rob Varela, VC Star.

I am finally writing a book about Tibetan appliqué and my unexpected quest to master this sacred art. Part art book, part memoir. A first-draft snippet from the memoir part follows. I’d love your help in making it as fascinating and beneficial as it can be. Please read with gentle curiosity, then email me your comments and questions. 

Thanks in advance!

Leslie

First Contact

I first saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1979 when I was in college and he was making his first visit to the US. I don’t think I knew who he was. I don’t know if anyone around me did either.

Over in India and Nepal, western hippies and students had discovered the Tibetans the decade before. They’d traveled overland, by bus, heading east from Europe. The Hippie Trail was a 20th century silk road through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan (or alternatively through Syria, Jordan, and Iraq). Rather than commerce, these modern explorers were trading in experience, discovering entirely new ways of being. Upon reaching India, some had taken vows to become monks. Many were attending teachings, doing retreats, studying Tibetan with lamas.

But I didn’t know that yet. I only found out years later after taking my own journey, by air, in the late 1980s, when travel was still rough and uncommon but was more accessible than before (largely due to the Lonely Planet guidebooks, the bible of the backpack traveler, which had been created by a couple of those early Hippie Trail overlanders).

I and my classmates at the University of California, Santa Cruz had been in utero when the Chinese occupation overtook Lhasa and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee his country, followed by 100,000 of his compatriots. By 1979, His Holiness and the Tibetan refugees had been resettled in India and Nepal for 20 years. A generation of Tibetan children had been born in exile. Inside Tibet, while we UCSC students were children, Tibetans had suffered religious repression, nomad collectivization, and starvation and had endured the Cultural Revolution with their Chinese occupiers. Thousands of monasteries had been destroyed and tens of thousands of monks and nuns killed. The people had been forced to denounce the Dalai Lama, renounce their vows, and even to kill and shame one another.

We students had been raised in prosperous cities and suburbs in a period of free expression, empowerment, abundance, and experimentation. UCSC was at the cutting edge of that experimentation, exploring new modes of education, evaluation, and fields of study.

Egalitarian relationships were promoted and students were on a first-name basis with professors. Idyllic redwood forests, rolling hills, and pastures were our classrooms, looking out over a spectacular bay and some of the best surfing in California.

Eastern spirituality had entered our awareness from an early age and was an ingredient in the human potential milieu in which we immersed ourselves. The Esalen Institute was just down the road with its mind-expanding ideas and beautiful hot tubs, open to the public after midnight, clothing discouraged. Most of our soaks were in simpler surroundings, nearby in the redwood clad hills of the Santa Cruz mountains.

We were insatiably curious and at least some of us were oriented toward growth in every aspect of our lives. So when we saw the flyers announcing that a Tibetan holy man was coming to speak on the East Field, we flocked to see him with the same enthusiasm we would have taken to a Grateful Dead concert or a walk in the woods on magic mushrooms or a vision quest.

Dalai_Lama_visits_UC_Santa_Cruz_October_1979_the_Dalai_Lama_at_the_microphone_at_the_stage_on_the_East_Field

This was His Holiness’ first visit to the United States. He was not greeted by statesmen but was welcomed to college campuses around the country. I have no idea how our small, nonconformist university got on the itinerary. And I don’t remember what His Holiness talked about that day (but there’s a recording and I will add something from it!) or what my first impression was. He spoke in Tibetan, translated into English by an interpreter, though his English was already remarkably good.

It was a sunny day, and I knew I was in the right place. Little did I know where that “place” really was and that a seed planted there would grow into a path.

Screenshot 2016-07-18 16.14.49

***

I’m writing a book and I’d like your help in making it as fascinating and useful as possible. You’ve just read a draft snippet. Your loving feedback will help me refine it. Please email me your comments and questions. Let me know what touched you and what lost you.

With gratitude overflowing,

Leslie

 

 

 

 

 
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Fiber Art Master Works in Central California

FIBER ART EXHIBITION at the FRESNO ART MUSEUM
May 20 to August 28, 2016

Thursday to Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm

2233 North First Street, Fresno, CA 93703

559-441-4221

Click here for directions, visitor information, hours, and admission.

Read the Fresno Bee’s excellent review of Fiber Art Master Works here.

Jeff Sanders' "Earth View II" draws visitors in to the beautifully curated Fiber Art Master Works exhibition at Fresno Art Museum, summer 2016.

Jeff Sanders’ “Earth View II” draws visitors in to the beautifully curated Fiber Art Master Works exhibition at Fresno Art Museum, summer 2016.

 

CaptionLeslie Rinchen-Wongmo with her "Three Mongolians" at the Fiber Art Master Works opening, May 20 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo with her “Three Mongolians” at the Fiber Art Master Works opening, May 20, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

 

Textile masterpieces by Michael Rohde, John Nava, Patti Handley, Audrey Sanders, Robin Clark, and  Joan Schulze impress with color, texture, and meaning at Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

Textile masterpieces by Michael Rohde, John Nava, Patti Handley, Audrey Sanders, Robin Clark, and Joan Schulze impress with color, texture, and meaning at Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

 

Textile masterpieces by Michael Rohde, Patti Handley, and Michelle Kingdom impress with color, texture, and meaning at Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum. Through the doorway on the left, you can glimpse Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo's "Buddha Shakyamuni and the Six Supports" attracting exhibition visitors' curiosity and fascination with its intricacy.

Textile masterpieces by Michael Rohde, Patti Handley, and Michelle Kingdom impress with color, texture, and meaning at Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum. Through the doorway on the left, you can glimpse Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo’s “Buddha Shakyamuni and the Six Supports” attracting exhibition visitors’ curiosity and fascination with its intricacy.

 

Michael Rohde shows the vivid potential of natural dyes in this weaving. The former bio-chemist dyes his own yarns before setting his loom and weaving by hand.

Michael Rohde shows the vivid potential of natural dyes in this weaving at Fiber Art Master Works, Fresno Art Museum. The former bio-chemist dyes his own yarns before setting his loom and weaving by hand.

 

This Navajo weaving by Martha Smith recalls the New York skyline, complete with Twin Towers, before disaster struck on September 11, 2001. Fresno Art Museum, Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

This Navajo weaving by Martha Smith recalls the New York skyline, complete with Twin Towers, before disaster struck on September 11, 2001. Fresno Art Museum, Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

 

Jeff Sanders' "Full Moon" holds a wall of its own and glows with perfect lighting at Fiber Art Master Works, Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

Jeff Sanders’ gently curved “Full Moon” holds a wall of its own and glows with perfect lighting at Fiber Art Master Works, Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

 

Michelle Kingdom's poignant embroideries are the only small pieces in the Fiber Art Master Works show. Their intimacy is touches deep. In the background, we see Ramekon O’Arwisters crochet work. Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016

Michelle Kingdom’s poignant embroideries are the only small pieces in the Fiber Art Master Works show. Their intimacy is touches deep. In the background, we see Ramekon O’Arwisters crochet work. Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016

 

A variety of surfaces by Patti Handley, Audrey Sanders, Robin Clark, and Joan Schulze show the remarkably diverse potential of fiber at Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

A variety of surfaces by Patti Handley, Audrey Sanders, Robin Clark, and Joan Schulze show the remarkably diverse potential of fiber at Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

 

Two of my favorite pieces at Fiber Art Master Works: Lia Cook's "Traces Past" (shown next to her "Doll Face") and Michael Rohde's "From My House to Your Homeland." Exhibition runs May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

Two of my favorite pieces at Fiber Art Master Works: Lia Cook’s “Traces Past” (shown next to her “Doll Face”) and Michael Rohde’s “From My House to Your Homeland.” Exhibition runs May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

 

The artistic power and diversity of weaving by Michael Rohde, John Nava, and Patti Handley at Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

The artistic power and diversity of weaving by Michael Rohde, John Nava, and Patti Handley at Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

 

IMG_0806Crochet creativity by Ramekon O’Arwisters at Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

Crochet creativity by Ramekon O’Arwisters at Fiber Art Master Works, May 20 thru Aug 28, 2016 at the Fresno Art Museum.

 

The unexpected power of ordinary materials (canvas, wood, and chicken wire) in this work by Audrey Sanders at Fiber Art Master Works, Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

The unexpected power of ordinary materials (canvas, wood, and chicken wire) in this work by Audrey Sanders at Fiber Art Master Works, Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

 

Traditional and contemporary works in Tibetan Appliqué by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo at Fiber Art Master Works, Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

Traditional and contemporary works in Tibetan Appliqué by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo at Fiber Art Master Works, Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

 

Detail of the textural quality of Buddha Appliqué by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo at Fiber Art Master Works, Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

Detail of the textural quality of Buddha Appliqué by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo at Fiber Art Master Works, Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

 

Detail of the haunting depth of "Traces Past" by Lia Cook at Fiber Art Master Works, Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

Detail of the haunting depth of “Traces Past” by Lia Cook at Fiber Art Master Works, Fresno Art Museum, May 20 to Aug 28, 2016.

 

 

FIBER ART MASTER WORKS at the FRESNO ART MUSEUM
May 20 to August 28, 2016

Thursday to Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm

2233 North First Street, Fresno, CA 93703

559-441-4221

Click here for directions, visitor information, hours, and admission.

Read the Fresno Bee’s excellent review of Fiber Art Master Works here.

 

 
Purchase Artwork & Prints   |  Commission Your Own   |   Online Courses

Special, Two-of-a-Kind, Framed Prints

(SOLD)

 

I’m offering two very special framed prints of my Big Buddha thangka at 50% off. These two prints feature my most elaborate thangka, the one His Holiness the Dalai Lama praised, surrounded by a brocade-covered mat. Update: The blue one has sold. The larger, gold one is still available.)

Inside each frame, below the print, I’ve hand-stitched a silk flower that recalls the original work.

Professionally matted and framed, these are two truly fine and beautiful pieces.

They were originally priced at $1495 for the one in blue brocade (SOLD) and $1995 for the one in gold brocade (29″ x 39″, STILL AVAILABLE). They are now $747 and $997, respectively. They will make a stunning addition to any room or altar.

Send me an email if you’d like to come to the studio to see them or if you know you want one for your home.

 
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Emperors, Lamas, and Silk: the Origin of Fabric Thangkas

This article originally appeared on Buddhistdoor Global on April 8, 2016.

Thangka paintings are Tibet’s most plentiful and portable form of sacred art. Less known and rarely seen are the highly prized appliqué thangkas. In fact, when I first discovered them in 1992 and expressed an interest in learning to make them, few Tibetans in Dharamsala had ever seen one.

A thangka is a two-dimensional, rollable form of art—a scroll—illustrated with images of spiritual masters, enlightened beings, role models, and symbols of our Buddha nature. In most thangkas, the picture is painted on cotton canvas and then framed in brocade fabric. In some thangkas, however, not only the frame but the picture itself is constructed from fabric.

FIG 1 Green Tara. China, 13th century, kesi (slit tapestry). Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. From studyblue.com

FIG 1 Green Tara. China, 13th century, kesi (slit tapestry). Asian Art Museum of
San Francisco. From studyblue.com

Guhyasamaja-Akshobhyavajra. China, Yongle period, 1416–19, silk embroidery. Potala Palace, Lhasa. From asianart.com

Guhyasamaja-Akshobhyavajra. China, Yongle period, 1416–19, silk
embroidery. Potala Palace, Lhasa. From asianart.com

The earliest known textile thangkas were 13th-century embroideries and tapestries produced in China on the basis of Tibetan paintings. Within a century or two, thangkas of hand-stitched silk appliqué were being created inside Tibet. No one knows for sure how this artistic evolution occurred, but it was undoubtedly an outgrowth of complex relationships among the nations of central and eastern Asia in the first half of the second millennium.

Over the centuries, power in this area changed hands many times. At times, the Mongols held sway over the whole region, while in other periods, the Chinese or Manchu had control. And from 1038–1227, the Tangut empire was an important force in what is today northwest China. Often, the nation which held temporal power looked to Tibetan lamas for spiritual guidance.

Chinese silk played an important role in managing and expressing these relationships. Silk came into Tibet as imperial tribute and commercial trade from at least as early as the Tang dynasty (618–907) and perhaps much earlier. A Sino-Tibetan treaty from 760 records an annual tribute of fifty thousand “pieces” of silk from the Chinese emperor to the Tibetan court at Lhasa (Reynolds 1995, 146).

The only indigenous weaving materials in Tibet were wool and yak hair. Silk was significantly more precious. In fact, silk was used as a currency. The price of a horse, for example, is recorded as having been anywhere from twenty to forty bolts of silk, depending on the quality of the horse and the time period (Reynolds 1995, 146 and 1997, 188).

In an article on patronage and religious practice in China and Tibet, Valrae Reynolds (former curator of Asian art at the Newark Museum and one of the few people to have written about Tibetan appliqué) describes the flourishing of artistic activity from the 11th to 13th centuries, as religious teachers founded monasteries with the support of “princely” families. From documents of this period, it emerges that “one of the popular ways to gain religious merit was to donate fine silk for the use of an esteemed teacher of a Buddhist monastery” (Reynolds 1997, 189). In this way—through tribute, commerce, and investment—silk satins, damasks, and brocades began to fill the treasuries of Tibet.

When the Mongols took over, consolidating control of China after 1279, they adopted many aspects of the destroyed Tangut court’s religious connection with Tibet, giving lamas great power over religious and cultural affairs and promoting artistic ventures that incorporated Tibetan Buddhist themes and styles. The use of silk to create sacred art grew out of these fluctuating Tangut-Mongol-Tibetan-Chinese interconnections.

It was during this period that textile copies of Tibetan paintings began to be produced in China, using Chinese techniques of weaving and embroidery. Reynolds notes that these silken images held “greater cachet than the paintings they were copied from” (Reynolds 1995, 147).

Achala. China, c. 1300, kesi (slit tapestry). Tibet Museum, Lhasa. From asianart.com

Achala. China, c. 1300, kesi (slit tapestry). Tibet Museum,
Lhasa. From asianart.com

Vajrapani. China, 14th century, kesi (slit tapestry). Rubin Museum of Art. From tumblr.com

Vajrapani. China, 14th century, kesi (slit tapestry). Rubin Museum of Art. From
tumblr.com

Art historian Michael Henss explains that these early “pictorial embroideries, tapestries, and brocades fall in between established art historical domains in two ways: they cannot be classified as paintings, nor are they textiles in the usual sense; Chinese by technique and origin, but Tibetan by subject and composition, [they were] presented by the imperial court to Tibetan religious officials and visitors, to their monastic enclaves in China and monasteries in Tibet . . .” (Henss 1997, 206). Henss also writes: “From the historical background, the regular flow of Tibetan art to China and Chinese art to Tibet between the late thirteenth and the late fifteenth centuries seems still to be underestimated” (Henss 1997, 214).

At some point, probably in the 14th century, the Tibetans were sufficiently inspired by the Chinese textile interpretations of their paintings to begin creating their own original textile masterpieces. To do so, they employed indigenous appliqué techniques, which were already being used to embellish ritual dance costumes, saddle blankets, and throne covers and to decorate the colorful tents and awnings that dotted the landscape for festivals and picnics. In collaboration with Tibet’s greatthangka painters, the country’s finest tailors were able to adapt these techniques to the more delicate and sacred imagery of thangkas.

Tibetan tents decorated with appliqué near Litang, eastern Tibet. From richandyon.com, 2006

Tibetan tents decorated with appliqué near Litang, eastern Tibet. From
richandyon.com, 2006

Tibetan ritual dance costume decorated with appliqué, Drikung Kyobpa Choling Tibetan Meditation Center, Escondido, California, 2012. Image courtesy of the author

Tibetan ritual dance costume decorated with appliqué, Drikung Kyobpa
Choling Tibetan Meditation Center, Escondido, California, 2012. Image
courtesy of the author

Textual records indicate that several giant appliqué thangkas were made in the early 15th century at Gyantse monastery in Tibet (Henss 1997, 214). And in 1468, the great thangka painter Menla Dhondup was commissioned by the first Dalai Lama to create a giant silk image of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, for display on the nine-story thangka wall of Tashilhunpo monastery. The wall was specially built for the occasional display of giant thangkas before crowds of devotees.

Monumental thangka depicting the Buddha of the Future, Maitreya, flanked by the Eighth Dalai Lama, Jamphel Gyatso, and his tutor, Yongtsin Yeshe Gyaltsen. Commissioned by the Eighth Dalai Lama for the benefit of his tutor and the posterity of the Buddhist faith. 1793, silk appliqué, Norton Simon Museum. From threadsofawakening.com

Monumental thangka depicting the Buddha of
the Future, Maitreya, flanked by the Eighth Dalai
Lama, Jamphel Gyatso, and his tutor, Yongtsin
Yeshe Gyaltsen. Commissioned by the Eighth
Dalai Lama for the benefit of his tutor and the
posterity of the Buddhist faith. 1793, silk appliqué,
Norton Simon Museum. From
threadsofawakening.com

Appliqué thangka production increased in the 16th century and spread throughout the region in the 17th and 18th centuries. Eventually, appliqué thangkas were being produced not only in Tibet itself, but also in the neighboring countries of Mongolia, Bhutan, and Ladakh.

Many of Tibet’s appliqué thangkas were destroyed during the 1950s and ‘60s, along with so many monasteries, texts, and cultural assets. For a few decades, this art form became largely dormant as Tibetans re-established themselves in exile and religion was suppressed within Tibet. In recent years, however, a thriving production has re-emerged among the exile community in India and Nepal, and some large appliqué thangkas have also been made within Tibet itself, including the giant Tsurphu thangka project managed by Terris and Leslie Nguyen Temple.

Karma Gadri thangka at Tsurphu Monastery, created by thangka artists Terris and Leslie Nguyen Temple in collaboration with the White Conch factory in Lhasa from 1992–94 and displayed at the annual event of Saga Dawa. From leslienguyentemple.com

Karma Gadri thangka at Tsurphu Monastery, created by thangka artists Terris and Leslie Nguyen Temple in collaboration with the White Conch factory in Lhasa from 1992–94 and displayed at the annual event of Saga Dawa. From leslienguyentemple.com

Tibetan women working on the giant thangka. As the image grew in size, a gymnasium was used to assemble the completed parts. Image courtesy of Leslie Nguyen Temple

Tibetan women working on the giant thangka. As the image grew in size, a gymnasium was used to assemble the completed parts. Image courtesy of Leslie Nguyen Temple

The prestige of fabric thangkas that began with Chinese textiles based on Tibetan paintings continues today with the uniquely Tibetan appliqué form. In the 2008 documentary Creating Buddhas: the Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas, Tibetologist Glenn Mullin notes, “For us, painting and sculpture are the two finest forms of art, but for Tibetans appliqué and embroidery are an even higher art.” Valrae Reynolds concurs by saying, “It’s kind of counterintuitive to the Western idea where painting and sculpture is high art and something made out of textile is craft. But in the Tibetan sense, an appliquéd thangka is the most wonderful, highest thing that you can create.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the author and one of her appliqué thangkas, Dharamsala, 1997. Image courtesy of the author

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the author and one of her appliqué thangkas,
Dharamsala, 1997. Image courtesy of the author

As an American woman, privileged to have learned this ancient, interculturally generated textile tradition from Tibetans in India, I am honored to carry it forward into the 21st century and, with the support of my Tibetan teachers and colleagues, to expand its reach into the Western world.

Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo is a textile artist, teacher, and caretaker of the sacred Tibetan tradition of silk appliqué thangka. Trained by two of the finest living masters of this rare art form, she stitches pieces of silk into fabric mosaics that bring the transformative figures of Buddhist meditation to life. Encouraged by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to make this art relevant across religions and cultures, Leslie created the Stitching Buddhas Virtual Apprentice Program to help women around the world integrate their spiritual and creative paths. She is a member of the Dakini As Art Collective and author of the forthcoming book, Threads of Awakening: the Sacred Power of Tibetan Textile Art.

 

References

Henss, Michael. 1997. “The Woven Image: Tibeto-Chinese Textile Thangkas of the Yuan and Early Ming Dynasties.” In Chinese and Central Asian Textiles: Selected articles from Orientations 1983-1997, 206–19. Hong Kong: Orientations Magazine Ltd.

Reynolds, Valrae. 1995. “The Silk Road: From China to Tibet – and Back.” In Chinese and Central Asian Textiles: Selected articles from Orientations 1983-1997, 146–53. Hong Kong: Orientations Magazine Ltd.

———. 1997. “Buddhist Silk Textiles: Evidence for Patronage and Ritual Practice in China and Tibet.” In Chinese and Central Asian Textiles: Selected articles from Orientations 1983-1997, 188–99. Hong Kong: Orientations Magazine Ltd.

Creating Buddhas: the Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas. 2008. DVD, directed by Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost. Madison, WI: Soulful Media.

 
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